Where do America's fastest growing private companies get all those great ideas? A look at some of the unlikely ways Inc. 500 CEOs came up with the names for their companies.
Cheers for Daddy's Girl
The name Doug Levin chose for his new company, Fresh Samantha Inc. (#127), a bottler and marketer of fresh fruit juices, was crucial. Which isn't to say that inventing the name was hard for him. "It just came to me," he says, recalling the serendipitous moment in 1993. "It was gestalt."
Nor did he do it entirely alone.
He was at home one day with his wife, Abby, a children's book illustrator. She was desperately trying to work while their daughter, Samantha, then 2, tore around the living room. Levin remembers thinking, "That Samantha, she is fresh." Bingo. He had the name for his company, based in Saco, Maine.
Only later did it occur to him that Samantha might not like her name indelibly linked to the word fresh. After a schoolmate teased her about it, Samantha asked him, "Daddy, what does fresh mean? Is it a bad thing?" He recalls saying, "No, being fresh is good. It means being full of life and energy."
That connotation apparently has helped Levin market the company's drinks, whose sales climbed to almost $16 million last year. But now Levin says that he may have made a mistake: "I'm proud that it's named after her. But there will be issues to deal with when she gets older."
Follow the Leaders
It's an oddity of Rochester, N.Y., that the names of its two premier corporations, Kodak and Xerox, are strangely symmetrical. Both contain five letters, consisting of three consonants that alternate with vowels, and each is two syllables long and begins and ends with the same consonant. That fact didn't escape Elena Prokupets when she was naming Lenel Systems International (#128), which is based in the Rochester suburb of Pittsford and provides security-management systems to corporations. "I wanted to imitate their success stories," says Prokupets. The name Lenel follows the winning letter-symmetry strategy and also happens to be a palindrome (a word that reads the same forward or backward). Plus it bears a scrambled resemblance to her first name, Elena.
Hunger Feeds the Mind
In 1993, when Tom Bush and Mark Schweiger quit their jobs at meat-processing giant Oscar Mayer and founded a company to sell precooked bacon, they had, between them, seven children: four for Bush, three for Schweiger.
They rushed to get their company up and running, not in the least because "we realized that we needed to feed seven hungry kids," says Schweiger. Picking the moniker for SHK Foods Inc. (#38), based in Madison, Wis., didn't require much thought. Schweiger says that when he divulges the origin of SHK (short for "seven hungry kids"), he "almost always gets a smile from even the crabbiest buyer."
Once Around the Zoo
Some entrepreneurs look to the animal kingdom, that age-old source of inspiration, for a company name. Take George Satornino, founder of engineering-services company Sierra Lobo Inc. (#343). Sierra Lobo comes from the Spanish for mountain and wolf, and Satornino chose it because wolves are known for the aggressiveness and resilience that he sees as his company's ethos. In a similar vein, Glenn Abel called on memories of the springbok, an agile breed of gazelle indigenous to his native South Africa, when he named Springbok Technologies Inc. (#397), a media-relations company that can "jump faster, higher, and farther than our competition." And Debbie Williams saw only good luck when the family's black cat, Magic, jumped onto the dining-room table while she and her husband were groping for a name for their company, and Black Cat Computer Wholesale (#445) was christened.
Pun Doubles the Fun
Even when she was deep into negotiations with vendors for her chain of espresso-cafés-cum-newsstands, Alisa Lippincott still didn't have a name for her then-nascent company. Frustrated by the haggling, she quipped to her husband, "What a brouhaha I had today!" Out of that came the zany pun that stuck as the name of Brew Ha Ha (#320), based in Wilmington, Del., and evoked its founder's zest and the kaffee-klatsch sociability she imagined for her stores.
For more articles about the origins of this year's Inc. 500 companies, see: